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GEC halts registration for plebiscite

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As part of the U.S. District Court ruling that stops the local government from enforcing Guam's plebiscite law, the Guam Election Commission has ceased registering voters for a plebiscite on the advice of its legal counsel.

The legal counsel also advised the commission to stop spending public funds related to its duties under the plebiscite statute.

GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan told The Guam Daily Post that the commission has sent memos to all agency and department heads informing them that their respective decolonization registrars are to turn in their registration forms. Names that are already on the registry will be maintained, she added.

Attention from different sources 

The commission's actions followed the March 8 decision rendered by District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood. Air Force veteran and longtime resident Arnold "Dave" Davis challenged the plebiscite statute years ago because the "native inhabitant" requirement barred him from taking part in the political status vote. Tydingco-Gatewood found the law to be race-based and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

"The Decolonization Registry is central to the law that has been enjoined, and there's no need for any further plebiscite registration. Any Guam registered voter is now automatically eligible to vote in any Guam election, including a political status plebiscite," Davis told the Post in response to GEC's announcement. 

The local reaction to the ruling has been mixed. While agencies attempt to comply with the decision, the governor intends to continue with a political status vote that would be inclusive of all residents, regardless of ancestry.

The governor did propose a dual ballot that separates the non-native voters' ballots from the indigenous residents' votes.

Some stakeholders, such as freshman Sen. Fernando Esteves, found themselves at odds with opening up the vote to all residents, noting it was meant to give the native residents of Guam a voice amid the island's colonial past. 

But the plebiscite ruling has drawn some international attention as well. Publications such as the National Review and Washington Examiner have characterized the plebiscite statute as racially driven, and a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution that had been reversed by a single man fighting for more than half a decade. 

"When I say Constitution, I mean the Constitution of the United States," said Adrian Cruz, chairman of the Decolonization of Free Association. "Really that's kind of an insult to the native inhabitants of Guam because the Constitution wasn't taken into consideration when they made the native people of Guam U.S. citizens by the Organic Act."

Considered an insult to the native people

Cruz was part of more than two dozen people protesting the plebiscite ruling directly across the street from the U.S. District Court in Hagåtña yesterday afternoon. The group, displaying the Guam flag and political signs, had originally congregated closer to the steps of the court, but was asked to move by federal officials, Cruz said. The protest was a spontaneous development organized by resident Ned Pablo, who placed the call on social media.

"We're going to call out the leaders, and if they don't come, then we call them cowards," Pablo told the Post as he rallied protesters and waved at passersby. 

The full extent of the fallout from the court's landmark decision will likely remain unknown at the end of a single protest or with the actions of a single agency. The Commission on Decolonization is anticipated to meet this month to discuss a potential date for the new status vote and the cessation of the decolonization registry. Moreover, a resolution supporting an appeal of the court's decision currently sits in the legislature with a public hearing scheduled for Friday.

The inability of the native people of Guam to engage in self-determination is an insult to their basic human right, Cruz said. This right did not come from any government, but from peoples' "creator," he said. Whatever direction comes from such determination is better than Guam's current status, he added. The island, as a U.S. territory, lacks voting representation in Congress and is unable to vote for president. This inequality extends to all residents of Guam, regardless of ancestry, and is unfair to those from Guam who died fighting wars with other American citizens, Cruz said.

"Our blood is just as expensive as anybody else's blood in the mainland, and we should be afforded the same rights and prerogatives as people there as well." 

Ron McNinch, a political commentator and an associate professor at the University of Guam, said although Guam residents are offered three political status choices – full integration, which many in Guam call ‘statehood’; free association with the United States; or independence from the U.S. – there are realistically only two ways to go.

"There are only two directions Guam can go: toward the U.S., including status quo; or away from the U.S.," he said.

If Guam wants to move away from the U.S., this means giving up the passport and U.S. citizenship, he said.

He's surprised at the protest against the judge's decision.

"Judges are the most respected and trusted public officials on Guam,” McNinch said. “Protesting against a judge for making an objective ruling simply shows just how detached many are from the reality voters on Guam live with."

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